The sport of roller derby started in the 1930s as a marathon skating event and eventually evolved into a race between two teams. The sport was first televised in the 40s and grew in popularity through the 60s. Revived a couple of years ago, teams have sprung up across the nation including a couple in South Carolina.
Roller Derby is an adrenaline pumping hard hitting sport on wheels. Two teams of five skaters travel around an oval track during a race called a 'jam.' The objective is to propel one teammate, the 'jammer,' past opponents which gives the team points. Basically the players bang and hit and push each other to get their jammer forward and keep the other jammer back.
Wendy Jernigan, also known as Red Dread, lived in Austin, Texas, a hotspot for roller derby, and soon was hooked on the sport. After relocating to Charleston for work, she realized no teams were located in the area. Teams exist in Myrtle Beach and Columbia but not in Charleston. She put an ad up looking for others who shared her desire. Soon, a small group of women gathered together every week to learn all about the sport of roller derby.
Jernigan said her story is like many in the group. She loved skating growing up but outgrew her favorite pastime. With no outlet for her sport she quit skating until she found roller derby. At first she was skeptical thinking roller derby was for rough and tough women but not her. Soon she realized others just like her played and she not only had that outlet but made new friends.
Now she says roller derby is more than an outlet for exercise but has turned into a business. Roller derby teams are player-owned and Jernigan puts a lot of time into ensuring the success of her team.
Beyond the skating, the sport is also an outlet for women's alter egos to blossom. They dress in fishnets stockings and miniskirts and wear helmets plastered with stickers. They have nicknames like Judas Priestess, B. Elsie Bub and Shells Bells. They also can pick any number to be unlike other sports which allow players to have certain numbers according to the position they play, like football.
Judas Priestess, for example picked 1432 a.d. which is the date Joan of Arc was burned at the stake.
Roller Derby is serious business though. Just ask coach Duck Reynolds. A former speed skater, he wanted to be involved in skating and discovered the team and volunteered to coach the women. He brought a lot of knowledge but had to learn all about the sport, rules and technique, and be able to impart that knowledge to the players. Also a member of the Holy City Beard & Moustache Society, Duck lets the facial hair go.
On one Tuesday evening coach, skaters and helpers gathered at Hot Wheels Skating Center to practice. Almost like a scene from the movie 'Dodgeball', skaters raced around an oval track as others threw balls at them, the objective was to not get hit. Exercises like that help the players be agile on the skates.
They soon were racing around the oval, banging and pushing into each other as they skated. Players went flying out of bounds and bouncing off the floor before trying to get back up and avoid being run over.
The bouts would last only a couple of minutes before the players would line the walls of the rink for water and some coaching. While along the wall, you could see the contrast in personalities of the players as they stood and conversed. The torn fishnets, crazy stickers or shirts with bold statements, each player had their own look.
Jernigan said some of the girls were quick to pick up the sport. Some were more timid and one didn't even want to play but just help out. All of them skate and compete now she said.
Whether on the bench or on the track, the skaters push and encourage each other. Since the team is composed mostly of rookie players, everyone has to push each other to get better.
When asked why they compete, many said for exercise while others pointed to a desire to play a physical sport. Stephanie Tipper said she always wanted to play football when she was younger but she had two strikes against her- gender and size. Now she gets to play a physical sport; on skates.
Jernigan said many of the women like to dress up and become someone else. Some are tough and some are sexy and cute, Jernigan said it is just up to them.
Every day they dress for work either at home or the office and do the same thing, she said, this is an outlet to explore the other side of their personality.
If you are interested, the women play their first home game March 22 at Omar Shrine Temple in Mount Pleasant. More information is available on their website http://www.myspace.com/lowcountryhighrollers
Paul Zoeller is a freelance photographer new to the area. Do you have an idea for a new blog or a question about a current blog? If you do contact Zoeller at firstname.lastname@example.org.